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Mother and son facing deportation after 19 years in Canada get 3-month reprieve as lawyer takes fight to court – CBC.ca

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A Toronto woman and her son who were facing deportation after living in Canada for 19 years are now being allowed to stay for three more months as their lawyer takes their fight to federal court.

On Friday, just hours after CBC News reported that Nike Okafor’s family faced being torn apart as she and her eldest son were ordered to return to Nigeria, the family’s lawyer received a letter from the Canada Border Services Agency granting their request for a deferral.

Okafor, 39, and her 21-year-old son Sydney, who was born in Nigeria, had been bracing to say goodbye to her Canadian husband and two children who were born in this country. They were to report to Toronto’s Pearson Airport on July 26.

“Having considered your request, I am of the opinion that a deferral of the removal order is appropriate under the circumstances,” the CBSA’s letter says. However, it adds that the agency has an obligation to carry out deportations “as soon as reasonably possible.”

Okafor and her son had been in Canada for nearly two decades before she received a deportation order this past May.

‘My whole life is here’

All this time later, she never imagined that she would be ripped from her husband and two of her children — all Canadian citizens — and forced to return to the country she fled.

Instead, the mother of three once again found herself fighting for her future, as well as that of her son, who arrived with her at the age of two all those years ago. She was pregnant with her second child at the time.

“If I have to go back, it will end my life,” Okafor said through tears. “I’ll be separated from my husband, I’ll be separated from my Canadian children, I don’t know how I can live.”

“My whole life is here.”

WATCH | ‘It will end my life,’ says mother facing deportation after 19 years in Canada:

‘Please let me stay here,’ says mother facing deportation after 19 years in Canada

15 hours ago

Duration 1:55

After nearly two decades in Canada, Nike Okafor is facing deportation to Nigeria despite having a Canadian husband and two Canadian children, amid delays in processing her spousal sponsorship application. The mother of three speaks to CBC Toronto about her wish to stay in the country.

Okafor came to Canada as an asylum seeker in 2003. A Muslim, she’d had a son with a Christian man and says she feared the boy would be taken from her amid religious tensions in Nigeria’s north. She fled to secure a future for them both, she told CBC News. 

Her refugee claim was denied but as Okafor appealed and tried to find a way to stay, life went on. She said she was told to stay in close touch with the CBSA over the years and did so.

In the meantime, she put herself through school, found employment as a personal support worker, had two Canadian-born children, met the man she would marry and built a future she never thought possible back home. 

But that future was nearly cut short.

‘Very, very unjust’

This past April, Okafor and her son, who are currently in Canada without status, suddenly received a deportation order from the CBSA. That’s despite her husband filing a spousal sponsorship application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) more than two years ago.

WATCH | This Canadian may have to say goodbye to his wife as she faces deportation:

This Canadian citizen may have to say goodbye to his wife as she faces deportation

15 hours ago

Duration 1:29

Rotimi Odunaiya’s wife, Nike Okafor, is facing deportation to Nigeria after living in Canada for 19 years after delays in the government processing her spousal application. He speaks to CBC Toronto about the message he has for the government.

According to the federal government’s website, the average processing time for spousal sponsorships is 15 months. Okafor has been waiting 28 months already and says she would have long been a permanent resident if not for the delays. 

It’s a situation that Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, calls “very, very unjust.”

“I think that most Canadians, when they look at these situations, they think that this doesn’t make any sense, and of course, how is it that one part of the government is kind of undermining the efforts of the other? Don’t they talk to each other?” Dench said.

“And basically the answer is that, no … at least, not on individual cases.”

Dench said while a case like Okafor’s involves both the CBSA and IRCC, the two departments work according to their specific mandates, the former focused on law enforcement and the latter selecting and facilitating new residents.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, calls the situation Okafor and her son are facing ‘unjust.’ (CBC)

The IRCC’s website says one of the ministry’s goals is “family reunification.” Still, there appears to be no mechanism to prevent the CBSA from removing someone even if they have a family-class-related permanent residency application underway, as is the case for Okafor and her son.

Dench said she’s hopeful that will soon change, noting the federal immigration minister’s mandate letter calls on him to look into broadening options for undocumented workers.

“We’re hoping that the government will see the opportunity to really regularize a very large number of people and to put an end to this kind of contradiction,” she said. 

Family reunification a ‘pillar’ of immigration system

In a statement to CBC News, IRCC said Okafor and her son’s application for permanent residence is “in queue for review” and will be met with an “objective review.”

The department would not say how long the wait will be and said time frames for processing some applications may vary due to the “unique nature” of each case. It also did not explain how someone with an application under review could be given a deportation order or whether the IRCC communicates with the CBSA to prevent such situations.

“Family reunification is a fundamental pillar of our immigration system, and IRCC works to process applications for permanent residence expeditiously while conducting all verifications required under the law,” the statement said. 

The CBSA told CBC News “the decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly.”

There are “a variety of reasons” that might prevent a removal order from being enforced expeditiously, it said. Having a Canadian-born child does not prevent a person from being deported, however it added “the CBSA always considers the best interest of the child before removing someone.”

With time running out for Okafor and her family, Toronto-based immigration lawyer Vakkas Bilsin hopes the spousal sponsorship will be approved in the three months that the family has been granted. (CBC)

With time running out for Okafor and her family, Toronto-based immigration lawyer Vakkas Bilsin has brought the case before the federal court and hopes the spousal sponsorship will be approved in the three months that the family has been granted.

“Knowingly sending Ms. and Mr. Okafor into the inevitable, serious and irreparable harm that awaits them in Nigeria is merciless and goes against every fibre that Canada’s immigration and refugee system and Canadian society was built on,” Bilsin wrote in a recent application calling on the CBSA to defer their deportation.

Speaking to CBC News, Bilsin said he’s seen no explanation for why the CBSA is opting to remove the two all these years later. 

“I think she deserves to be in Canada. She might not have permanent residency but she’s Canadian in heart.”

‘We would have to restart our lives’

As their deportation date approached, Okafor’s eldest son tried to make sense of what it would mean to leave behind the only country he’s called home. 

Enrolled in a sports management program at Humber College, he had no idea if he’d be in Canada to see it through. He worried too about his younger siblings who look up to him. 

As their deportation date approaches, Okafor’s Nigerian-born son Sydney, now 21, is trying to make sense of what it would mean to leave behind the only country he’s called home.  (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

“If we had to leave, we would have to restart our lives,” he said. “It wouldn’t be right.”

Okafor’s husband, Rotimi Odunaiya, a Canadian citizen who she’s been with for 10 years and married for about five, said the family has been living one day at a time, hoping the government will step in to keep them together. 

“Somebody who has already lived a life here, up to two decades… contributing to society, working as a PSW — it’s not a joke,” he said.  “If somebody says this cannot happen in Canada — yes, it does happen.”

“We’re a family,” he said. “Don’t split us.”


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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International support for miners rescue was ‘heartwarming,’ says company president

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OTTAWA — The recent successful rescue of two miners trapped in a mine in the Dominican Republic for more than a week was made possible thanks to support from the international community including direct assistance from the Royal Canadian Air Force, according to the president of the company at the centre of the incident.

Paul Marinko, head of the Dominican Mining Corporation known as Cormidom, said Canada played a critical role in transporting equipment that was ultimately used to help liberate the men from the Cerro de Maimón operation.

The miners’ ordeal saw Gregores Mendez and Carlos Yepez spend 10 days trapped 31 metres under the surface from July 31 to Aug. 9.

Marinko said domestic support for the rescue effort was strong, with Dominican President Luis Abinader calling every day to check in on the status of the rescue and various government departments providing direct support on the ground.

But he said experts from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. were also involved, and the Canadian government played a key role in obtaining and providing equipment for the rescue operation.

“It was heartwarming to actually see that response,” Marinko said in a Zoom interview.

Marinko said the company swung into action immediately after the “fall of ground” that left the miners confined in a 400-square-meter space. Within 15 hours of the incident, he said crews involved in the rescue had established a hole through which they delivered water, food, walkie-talkies, entertainment and a light source.

Nonetheless, Marinko said the experience would have been terrifying for the two men.

The miners eventually reported rising water levels that eventually reached waist level, but Marinko says they were able to pump the water out at a speed six times the rate of the inflow.

“You could imagine being trapped, seeing rising water and knowing that rescue is not going to be quick. So they went through some terrifying moments,” he said.

After assessing what equipment would be needed to safely rescue the miners, Marinko said the company began trying to track it down abroad.

Machines Rogers International, a mining company based in Val D’Or, Que. agreed to lend the necessary machinery to Cormidom and the Dominican government got in touch with Ottawa for assistance in transporting the gear.

“The problem for us was to transport … was just beyond our resources, we didn’t have the capacity to do that,” Marinko said.

The Royal Canadian Air Force transported the mining excavation system to the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo on Aug. 7. Two days later, the miners were rescued with assistance from a team sent over by Machines Rogers International.

Defence Minister Anita Anand issued a tweet on Tuesday thanking the Royal Canadian Air Force personnel involved in the mission.

“To our aviators – you make Canadians proud, and we are grateful for your service,” Anand wrote.

Marinko said the two miners were released from hospital on Thursday and are now with their families.

The rescue comes after the collapse of a coal mine in Mexico that left 15 miners trapped, with five escaping with injuries. Rescue divers’ first attempts to reach the remaining 10 miners failed, Mexican authorities said on Thursday.

“I think of those poor men trapped in Mexico,” Marinko said. “We were lucky.”

The cause of the incident at Cerro de Maimón is currently under investigation and the underground mine is temporarily closed.

“When the authorities and more importantly, when I’m satisfied it’s safe, we’ll go back in,” Marinko said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2022.

 

Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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One dead & 40 injured at Medusa Festival in Spain

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Cullera, Spain- One person has been confirmed dead, a 22-year-old male, and 40 injured after the main entrance and the main stage of the Medusa Festival collapsed in the wee hours of Saturday.

According to Spain‘s paramilitary police unit, the stage collapsed due to a strong gust of wind which had reached more than 51mph (82kmh).

In addition, the Valencia section of Spain’s national weather service (AEMET) said that warm breezes were producing very strong gusts of wind and abrupt increases in temperature. At one point the temperature was a blistering 40.5 Celsius (104.9 degrees Fahrenheit) at the Alicante-Elche airport, just south of the concert site.

Videos posted on social media early Saturday showed strong winds and structures falling from the stage as large crowds of festival attendees were evacuated. The videos also showed the moment when the venue’s structures, including the main stage, fell on people in the front rows.

“A terrible accident that shocks all of us. I want to extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the young man who died early this morning at the Medusa Festival in Cullera,” said Ximo Puig, president of the Valencia regional government.

Meanwhile, organizers of the festival, which was supposed to see a total of 320 000 attendees over three days from Friday through Sunday, said they are completely devastated and dismayed at what happened this morning and said they had suspended the festival.

“At around four in the morning, unexpected and violent strong winds destroyed certain areas of the festival, forcing management to make the immediate decision to vacate the concert area to guarantee the safety of attendees, workers and artists.

Unfortunately, the devastating meteorological phenomenon led some structures to cause unexpected consequences. All our support and affection for those affected in these difficult and sad times.

Due to inclement weather occurring in the early hours of Aug. 13, 2022, and with the aim of guaranteeing the security of the concert-goers, workers and artists gathered at the Medusa Festival, the festival organization suspends its activity for the time being.

The festival site is cleared as a preventative measure with the aim of facilitating the work of the emergency and security services at the Medusa Festival,” said the organizers in a statement.

There were about 50 000 people at the festival site when the incident happened, and it took 40 minutes to evacuate people from the site.

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Quebec towns protecting right to serve residents in English after new language law

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MONTREAL — Quebec’s new language law has dozens of municipalities in the province shoring up their bilingual status, with few considering giving up the right to serve their citizens in both English and French.

Almost 90 cities, towns or boroughs in Quebec are considered officially bilingual, a designation allowing them to offer services, post signage and mail communications in the country’s two official languages. Jurisdictions without this status must communicate only in French, with few exceptions.

Bill 96, the new language law that came into effect June 1, proposes that a municipality’s bilingual status be revoked in places where fewer than 50 per cent of citizens have English as a mother tongue. However, a bilingual town or city can avoid losing its status by passing a resolution within 120 days of receiving notice from the province.

Scott Pearce, the mayor of the township of Gore, north of Montreal, said choosing to remain bilingual was an easy decision for his town of just over 1,700 people.

“We were founded here by the Irish in the 1800s, so it’s part of our history — speaking English and English culture,” he said in a recent interview.

While the percentage of residents in Gore who speak English as a mother tongue has dropped from over 50 per cent to around 20 per cent, he said maintaining bilingualism is popular among French-speaking and English-speaking citizens alike.

Language, he said, “has never been an issue here.”

Pearce, who represents bilingual municipalities at the province’s federation of towns and cities — Fédération Québécoise des municipalités — said most of the mayors he’s spoken with plan on passing similar resolutions, or have already done so.

“I talked to mayors from all over the province, and they’re really proud of the bilingual status and how their communities — English and French — get along,” he said.

While Bill 96 has been criticized by groups representing English-speakers, Pearce, who is married to a sitting legislature member, says he believes that in this instance, the governing party has done the towns a favour by giving them an easy way to formalize their status.

The Canadian Press reached out to all the bilingual municipalities and boroughs to ask them whether they have passed, or plan to pass, a resolution to keep their status. Of more than two dozen that responded, all but three said they intended to remain bilingual. The others said they were still studying the law or declined to comment. None said they planned to give up being considered officially bilingual.

A spokesperson for the province’s language office, the Office québécois de la langue française, said in an email that notices would be sent “shortly” to towns that no longer meet the 50 per cent threshold.

While they can offer services in English, “a municipality recognized as bilingual must nevertheless ensure that its services to the public are available in the official language of Quebec, French,” Nicolas Trudel wrote in an email.

The official purpose of Bill 96 is to affirm that French is Quebec’s only official language and “the common language of the Québec nation.” But four mayors who spoke to The Canadian Press by phone, as well as many of those who responded by email, all said the decision to operate in two languages was unanimous among city council and raised little to no debate among citizens.

“I believe the French language is already protected, and well protected,” said Richard Burcombe, the mayor of Town of Brome Lake, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. “They don’t need to eliminate services to the English population to protect the French language.”

He said his town, which falls below the 50 per cent threshold, hasn’t yet passed a resolution but will do so once it receives a notice.

Kirkland, a city in the Montreal area, described bilingualism as a “core value in all aspects of municipal life,” while Ayer’s Cliff, Que., in the Eastern Townships, said it was “essential to the character of the municipality and as testimony to the historical presence of the two communities, anglophone and francophone.”

Otterburn Park, a town 40 kilometres east of Montreal, said it wanted to keep its bilingual status despite only 5.7 per cent of its population reporting English as a mother tongue in the last census.

“The English-speaking population is largely made up of seniors,” Mayor Mélanie Villeneuve wrote in an email.

“With a view to providing quality service, particularly to more vulnerable groups of people, we believe it is important to be able to communicate with English-speaking citizens in the language that works for them.”

Several of the mayors expressed hope that the choice to remain bilingual would be accepted as permanent and that they wouldn’t have to pass new resolutions every time there’s a census.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2022.

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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